Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

Art. X.-1. The Danvers Jewels. By MARY CHOLMONDELEY.

London: Bentley, 1887. 2. Sir Charles Danvers. By Mary CHOLMONDI London:

Bentley, 1889. 3. Diana Tempest. By MARY CHOLMONDELEY. London:

Bentley, 1893. 4. Red Pottage. By MARY CHOLMONDELEY. London: Arnold,

1899. 5. Concerning Isabel Carnaby. By ELLEN THORNEYCROFT

FOWLER. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1898. 6. The Double Thread. By ELLEN THORNEYCROFT FOWLER.

London: Hutchinson, 1899. 7. The Farringdons. By ELLEN THORNEYCROFT FOWLER.

London: Hutchinson, 1900. T: HERE is nothing more vexing and misleading than an

arbitrary classification ; but, after all, names are a necessity, and it is impossible to talk about the modern novel with any chance of distinctness unless one specifies the class of novel that is referred to. And, since prose fiction began to stand alone as a separate art, there have always been two main types of story—the novel of incident and the novel of observation. Naturally the types have overlapped ; human intelligence more than anything else in the world refuses to be shut into watertight compartments; but still there exists a broad distinction between the story told as a traveller may tell his adventures in Abyssinia or Peru, and the story concerned from start to finish with circumstances familiar to the audience in their own daily life. And broadly speaking again—the novel of incident commends itself to men, the novel of observation to women. Our curiosity is limited by our imagination, and the bulk of us care most for the recital of such actions as we can see ourselves take part in. In the secret chambers of our mind we still play, as we played when we were children, at being heroes and heroines, though we select the precise type of heroism (or villany) with a little more discrimination. We do not aspire after the entirely incongruous; if our flesh has succumbed under the ordeal of a Channel crossing, we avoid the identification of ourselves with the young rescuer of the shipwrecked. But still, there is scarcely a man so tied by custom in soul as well as body to his office-stool that he does not conceive it possible, and even desirable,

that he too might take a hand in bloodshed and feel the lust of combat rise in his veins. The battle instinct survives in the

sewithat did the fighting long after there had ceased to be any fighting for it to do. But woman, who in the old tumea veadily identified her emotions with those of the valiant kuight, and who listened-or so one may suppose from the old forms of literature—with more interest to the recital of innumerable tourneyings than to any love song—she has greatly lost touch with these fiercer emotions ; and among novel-readers women make the majority.

That is why in every novel the love interest is obligatory. When you have that, you have something that appeals to every woman-something that she can compare, not, perhaps, with her actual experiences, but with those infinite capabilities of which she alone is aware ; and therefore, to win her approbation, if the story be one of risks and adventures, they must at least be risked and adventured for the sake of a woman. If the novelist neglects this interest he does so at his peril; women have hardly yet become reconciled to Stevenson, because in the books by which he became famous there was no love-story. Still, in Stevenson there was always that charm which is not proper to the novel as a novel—the fascination of romance; the sense everywhere, at every turn of the narrative, that there is something waiting always just beyond the corner; and this touch of mystery is felt less by women than by men, yet it is felt by all human beings who have a susceptibility to the influences of literature. But give to the average educated lady a book like Mr. Morley Roberts's 'Sea Comedy,' which is simply an admirable yarn of rough-and-tumble adventure, with the grimmest issues taken in a jesting spirit, and the book will have no interest for her. She has no possible concern in the scenes that pass on board a ship homeward bound from Australia with a crew of broken miners, half of them •Shanghaied' or trepanned, and every mother's son with a revolver in his pocket. But, on the other hand, every man will enter at once into the spirit of the adventure, and he will have a man's admiration for a man, the hard-fisted ruffian who first of all sharks up the crew out of hospitals and gambling dens, and then manages to keep such a makeshift for discipline as lands the ship safe in port without throat-cutting. If he had been labouring for the blue eyes of a fair-haired lass, discreetly suggested in the first chapter, hinted at in moments of high emotion throughout, and introduced with a pink halo on the last page, the book

VOL. CXCII. NO. CCCXCIII.

P

might have been a novel in the orthodox form, and women might have read it; as it was, it remained a yarn, and one of the best of its kind, but Mudie's, probabled very little call for copies. A book of this sort is a saga, and a sa

old Icelandic type; it appeals to man, the abos gatal fighting animal, who is more concerned with the fight than the motive of the fighter. But the pleasure of recognition, of identifying our own latent instincts translated into act, is, in a book like this, only for men, whereas the successful novel easily eschews such a limitation of the potential audience. The superficial interests of men and of women are to-day widely similar, and a novel that deals with the ordinary life of civilised society gives this pleasure to both sexes, but chiefly to the sex which is par excellence the sex of novelreaders. Hence, in spite of the vogue which the historical novel has recently attained, there arises the domination of the novel of manners; yet it must not be supposed that here the novelist has to move checked and fettered by the laws of common probability. The most popular novel of manners is that based mainly on imagination. It contrives to pay a double debt, gratifying the human interest in a story, and tickling the human curiosity where that curiosity is most sensitive. Mr. Hall Caine, in "The Christian, revealed to a palpitating public the monstrous wickedness that goes on in London hospitals, and showed how patients generally owe their lives to the sagacity and resolution of a raw probationer. The information was vouched for as aceurate by the author, and it was just the information that the general public desired. Accuracy was a matter of slight importance; to have a picture of the life lived by people whom one met in the street, but not elsewhere, to see the true inwardness of what was only vaguely recorded in the newspapers—this the average novel-reader, the person in whose hands lie pecuniary success and failure, demanded of the popular instructor. For novels of manners resolve themselves into two classes—those which are based on knowledge and those which rear a fabric on imagination. And for solid success it is to the latter we should look. The power to gratify a popular curiosity accounts for the stupefying fact that Miss Marie Corelli is read by tens of thousands. She describes society-the haunt of wicked peers and abandoned peeresses-not exactly as it is, but exactly as her audience wishes to hear it described. Her books are to her audience as good as a sermon,' and much

And yet

better too, because they are more detailed. A work like Ouida's powerful piece of rhetoric, The Massarenes,' does not rest one observation, but it rests on facts; it is not life, but was near life as satire is bound to do. A book likmurder of Delicia' is true to nothing in heaven and earth but Miss Corelli's imagination. Miss Corelli has been so successful that it is impossible, in an essay of this kind, to omit at least so much reference to her as is contained in saying that her work is entirely undeserving of any consideration.

Miss Corelli ranks as a novelist of manners by intention rather than by result, but it is plainly her intention to depict not so much individuals as classes ; to render not a single character but the character of a society. The distinction is important for our present purpose, and it may be well to dwell upon it. A novelist who sets out to tell us what men and women may be like uses imagination for the purposes of psychology; one who tells us what they are like uses observation. The stronger the emotional interest, whether roused by violent and exciting incident or by the suggestion of some great spiritual crisis, the more difficult it is to avoid concentrating

all attention on the principal figure, unless, like Scott, the writer fixes our minds on the events themselves rather than on the persons affected by them. But in the day of small things interest is diffused, and we observe all the actors, we note their individual peculiarities, we listen to general comment, every accessory has a value in its own right, we see things and people as they are in themselves, not in relation to some tragic personage. The room where a murderer sits takes a shadow from the murder, but the room where three old ladies combine to talk gossip has a physiognomy of its own. Where there is no overmastering central preoccupation the novelist may atone for its absence by the significance given to detail, and a catholicity of concern.

Let us illustrate by examples. In "Tess of the D'Urbervilles : Mr. Hardy's object is to portray character, but individual character, to show us the nature of Tess shaking off alien accretions and shooting up into the final glory of its tragic blossom. Every other actor affects us in a way through Tess; we judge them by their dealings with her, by their contrast to her figure or their harmony with it. So true an artist as Mr. Hardy is indifferent to no form of human life, but he depicts the surroundings for the sake of Tess. On the other hand the novelist of manners is concerned to combine and to contrast in the picture groups rather than individuals. There is no character in Miss Austen's works who 80 dominates a story, none who is such an emotional centre as Tess. But on the other hand look at the skill with which this subtle artist marks off not only individualities but the gradations between group and group in the very limited section of society that she knows and treats

[graphic]

of. The county families, the stray visitors from the world of London, the professional men like the clergy and barristers, the indigent gentlefolk of country towns, who barely escape social relations with the shopkeeper—all these are differentiated so perfectly that every character which figures is true not only to its own nature, but to the class from which it comes. Miss Ferrier, aiming at a similar result, was forced to employ the most glaring contrasts—to plunge fine ladies into the house of a Highland laird, or bring a Highland lass in among the bluestockings at Bath; and her work is superannuated these fifty years. Even Thackeray makes his task easier for himself than Miss Austen did ; his oppositions were obvious ; the life of the soldier or of the Bohemian is naturally incompatible with that of the stockbroker or merchant, and a less skilful hand could have drawn out the contrast between Major Pendennis and old Costigan. But after all, Thackeray would be the novelist of manners par excellence if he were not so much more. When subtlety of discrimination is needed it never fails, and the households of the prosperous Osbornes and the broken-down Sedleys are rendered in every detail with the same certain touch as Becky's card parties, or Lord Steyne's ball. But the genius of the novelist half obscures his art, and in thinking of Becky and Amelia we forget that, just to fill in the picture, he has accomplished what is the lifelong effort of laborious artists.

Recent fiction never attempts such a range as Thackeray's; it is prone to limit its study to a single class. Mr. George Gissing, to name a typical example, has written the novel of manners with genuine talent. His 'New Grub Street' is an amazing study of the people who live the most uncomfortable of ail lives, between two classes ; meeting on the stair that leads up and down from the recognised literary world. It is a sordid ascent, a squalid descent, as Mr. Gissing sees it, and that, perhaps, is why he is a neglected excellence. Mr. George Moore in ' Esther Waters' gained a wider popularity with a study conceived in a similar spirit, but dealing with a class—the hangers-on of race-courseswhose lives are of more general interest, and have less frequently been treated in literature. But for the full

« ForrigeFortsett »